Tell Me About Voles

image001.jpgMany people distinguish “meadow mice” from “field mice” by the fact that meadow mice (more properly called “voles”) have blunt snouts and short ears barely visible through the fur. Their ears and eyes are small relative to other mouse-like animals commonly seen. The physical feature that is most distinguishing is a short tail, which is less than 3 inches long. Most of the eight species of voles that make Colorado home are brownish in color, but the sagebrush vole is gray and the southern red-backed vole has a brick-red patch on its back. Size ranges from less than 6 inches long and 1-1½ ounces for sagebrush voles to about 7 inches long and up to 2½ ounces for meadow and prairie voles. 


Voles construct underground tunnels with burrow entrances which can contain several adults and young. Voles can cause extensive damage to lawns, ornamental plants, trees and shrubs. Signs of damage caused by voles include runways that are approximately two inches wide through lawns, and trees that appear to be suffering from disease or insect infestation. 



Habitat Modification

Elimination of ground cover of weeds and tall grasses by frequent and close mowing, tilling. Herbicide application is the most successful and longest lasting method to reduce vole damage. Planting short grasses or short protective ground cover may reduce vole numbers. 

Individual plants or flowerbeds can be partially protected with a subterranean barrier composed of hardware cloth (1/4-inch mesh or less) buried 6 to 8 inches into the soil. By sinking the barrier to a depth of at least 6 inches, the property owner will assure that animals do not burrow under the obstacle. This tactic may offer the best permanent solution to problems with voles in the residential yard. A barrier of gravel on paths also discourages voles from moving around yards because they prefer to excavate soft soil. 


Tulips and hostas are favorite foods of voles and may occasionally sustain high damage. Homeowners whose plants are repeatedly assaulted by voles should consider substitute plants, such as daffodil, which are less palatable. Crown imperial is another showy plant that has a reputation for repelling voles. Plastic, metal, or cloth barriers may be wrapped around the trunks of individual trees to prevent voles from gnawing on their bark. Tar paper also is used for this purpose. 


Voles can cause serious damage to ornamental flowerbeds by destroying the bulbs of plants such as lilies and tulips. Soaking bulbs before planting in one of the many commercially available bettering agents containing “Thiram” can be effective in limiting damage to new plantings. 


To repair damage to lawns, rake, fertilize and water the affected area. Damage to lawns can be reduced by close mowing in the fall before snow arrives and removing tall grassy cover near lawns. Most damage occurs in the winter when they move through the grass runways under the protection of snow.